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Maritime more important than ever after Brexit, says Liam Fox

International trade secretary sets out stall in exclusive Lloyd’s List interview

BRITAIN’S maritime industries will become “more important than ever” in the period following Brexit, UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox has told Lloyd’s List.

The international trade secretary stressed that shipping is crucial to his department’s efforts to boost UK exports, opening up what he sees as the enhanced trading opportunities offered by departure from the European Union in 2019.

The post-EU game plan will see maritime employers encouraged to double the number of apprenticeships on offer, and there will be a renaissance in British shipbuilding under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, he pledged.

He also reassured ports that the government is committed to making trade as frictionless as possible, after several industry chiefs hit out at the potential for waterfront congestion once the UK comes out of the EU customs union. 

Mr Fox — twice an unsuccessful contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party — gave this website an exclusive email Q&A interview prior to his speech at the Tory conference in Manchester this week, in which he made clear that he was optimistic about Britain’s prospects after EU withdrawal.

Critics, both inside and outside his own party, have instead pointed to the slow progress made in Brexit talks, with agreement with Brussels on divorce settlement basics required before talks on third country trade deals can even commence.

Mr Fox described the UK as a great place for maritime businesses, thanks to its attractive tonnage tax offering, low corporation tax rates, and the general ease of doing business here.

The maritime sector contributes £22bn ($29.2bn) a year to the economy and employs 360,000 people, he said.

But more must be done, and the government will build on the recommendations contained in the 2015 Maritime Growth Study, Mr Fox went on.

The document’s 19 recommendations include commitments to double the size of the UK flag, increase commercial focus at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, help market the British maritime sector abroad, and improve seafarer training.

“There is vast potential to unlock increased trade with the world post-Brexit, but we must do it by being technologically advanced and innovative. So this sector will become more important than ever,” said Mr Fox.

“The sector has already made great strides and just as it was the driver of Britain’s prosperity in the past, so it will be in the future as we move forward as an independent nation.”

Value chains

Mr Fox has previously spoken of a “post-geography trading world”. Asked to unpack the concept, he pointed to the way in which communications technologies have done much to eliminate barriers of time and geography.

Shipping takes credit for making it economically viable to transport materials and components across the world, thus expediting the development of the global economy.

“These value chains have had a very real impact on the lives of ordinary people across the world.

“In this country, living standards have climbed to their highest level in history, as more goods become available at better prices, and wages go further.”

Moreover, economic liberalisation in China and India could not have produced an economic boom without the ability to access global markets by sea.

In this way, shipping has contributed to a “great emancipation of the world’s poor”, which could not have taken place without it.

Nor is Mr Fox disheartened by recent unfavourable economic data, including a widening trade deficit with countries outside the EU, and the failure of British exporters to gain as much market share as some economic models predict in the wake of sterling depreciation.

“The fundamentals of our economy remain strong. Our exports are increasing and we’re attracting more foreign direct investment projects than ever before,” he insisted.

“Our science and research excellence, system of commercial law, low tax/low regulation economy continue to be a major draw for international investors.”

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